André-Jacques Garnerin

The First Parachute and the Birth of Modern Skydiving History, Skydiving Leave a Comment

You may have seen skydiving videos on social media, or even have a friend or two brave enough to take the plunge. Advancements in technology and accessibility have made skydiving more popular than ever–but history indicates that the sport had quite meager beginnings.

An early concept of the modern parachute was designed by Renaissance artist and inventor, Leonardo da Vinci. He imagined that the pyramid-shaped device would be constructed of sealed linen cloth, and held together by wooden poles. He also provided an explanation for his seemingly impossible invention: “If a man has a structure made out of coated cloth 12 arms wide and 12 tall, he will be able to throw himself from any great height without hurting himself.”

Da Vinci never had the opportunity to test his invention, but his musings captured the interest of adventurers centuries later. In 1783, French scientist Louis-Sébastien Lenormand fashioned a crude parachute with two umbrellas and jumped from a tree. That same year, he revised the parachute’s design and leaped from the tower of the Montpellier Observatory. Similar to da Vinci’s idea using the parachute to jump safely from heights, Lenormand hoped that the parachute would help trapped people escape from burning buildings.

While Lenormand was one of the first to construct and use a parachute, Frenchman André-Jacques Garnerin is considered the first modern parachutist (unlike other prototypes, his parachute was the first to be constructed without a rigid frame). Garnerin served as an inspector during the French Revolution and was enthusiastic about using balloons for military purposes; unfortunately, he was captured by British troops, released to the Austrian army, and was held prisoner in Hungary for three years. After his release, Garnerin began to study ballooning and finally held his first parachuting exhibit in 1797. The 23-foot parachute would soon make history.

On October 22, 1797, Garnerin attached the parachute to a hot-air balloon and planned to make a jump from 3,200 feet. While the jump was ultimately successful, he failed to add a major component: the air vent. After re-working the parachute’s design, he continued to hold exhibitions across Europe.

In 1799, his wife, Jeanne-Genevieve, joined him in his sky-high adventures and became the first female parachutist. During an exhibition in England in 1802, Garnerin made the leap from 8,000 feet–perhaps his most memorable jump of all. He pursued his passion until the very end: after making almost 200 jumps throughout his career, he died in 1823 while preparing to test a new parachute.

Garnerin’s countless experiments proved to be a worthwhile endeavor. Today, parachutes are used by NASA, the military, and extreme sport enthusiasts. Without the early models of the parachute, modern skydiving would not even exist! In fact, the United States Parachute Association (USPA) regulates all national skydiving standards. No matter where you choose to skydive, you can have some peace of mind and focus on the adventure at hand!

Over 500,000 people skydive per year….so why not take the plunge? We promise you won’t regret it!

To learn more about skydiving and stay up-to-date on the latest industry news, visit For further questions or booking information, call 1-800-614-7948.

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